Manchester-born Smallwood refuses to divulge his sales technique but says of his career progression: “Each time I have made a change, it has been a step up.”
After successfully building up Positive Solutions as national sales director from 1999 through to its sale to Aegon in 2006 – a moment Smallwood is proud of – he made the bold move to go it alone.
“I was at PosSol from the beginning, so to join a start-up company and watch that business grow was the best education anyone can get. It gave me the chance to put my stamp on the industry.”
Smallwood teamed up with PosSol compliance director Chris Davies to launch 2plan, a technology-driven national IFA firm which recently rebranded as 2plan Wealth Management.
According to Smallwood, who now operates with a policy of no paper processing, the move was a result of advisers wanting to understand more about risk profiling, asset allocation and investment strategy.
“Around 2004 to 2005, IFAs were asking for more systems, so we decided that we could build an enhanced model and attract quality IFAs who advise predominantly in the investment platform. We have exceeded our work at PosSol. We are not just saving advisers’ time now, we take them to these wealth management areas and provide that secure environment so they can write business.”
However, it has not been just a case of investing in technology and finetuning the work environment, it was also about getting the foundation right before recruiting advisers. “Over the last 12 months, we have been building steps to create this wealth management model and now we have done that, it is exactly the right time to enhance our brand and relaunch ourselves as a wealth management proposition.”
Behind the scenes, Smallwood and Davies have developed a system which demonstrates the true meaning of financial technology. It offers its advisers a single in-house fact-find, a risk-profiling system and asset allocation facilities. These three systems then allow the adviser to provide model portfolios and recommendations. Complex and bigger cases are passed on to a paraplanner or internal specialist at the 2plan headquarters in Leeds.
Smallwood says all the “pieces of the jigsaw” are in place and 2plan has built an integrated environment which has generated great opportunities for advisers. He is confident the firm is ready to hit its target of 1,000 advisers by 2013. “What we said in the beginning was to look to build an organisation of about 1,000 advisers over five years. The reason for that is if you invest heavily in the technology side of things, you can drive better efficiencies into the business by running the technology over a bigger number of advisers.”
Leaving aside technology, Smallwood has some personal bugbears with the industry, particularly when it comes to those who do not stick to advising. “We are IFAs, we are not fund managers or stockbrokers. I want them to stop worrying about the best fund managers, I want them to focus on finding quality clients and I want them to focus on service.”
He warns that advisers who position themselves as product sellers will also fall short. “Service is key to the wealth management sector. It is not about trying to get a sale, it is about long-lasting trusting relationships with clients.”
Smallwood says his firm is ready for the retail distribution review but he warns that many in the industry are not. “In our response to the FSA, we said we believe independence is the way to go. Anything that makes the industry more professional in the eyes of the consumer cannot be a bad thing.”
In preparation for the RDR, 2plan is working with the Chartered Insurance Institute to construct a programme to help advisers reach diploma status, which Smallwood says needs to be done over a period of time.
He welcomes the customer-agreed remuneration model. “No matter what people say, there is commission bias being shown in the industry and I think if we can break the link between product providers influencing IFAs, then we can move to a true wealth management proposition.”
Despite the credit crunch, Smallwood is in high spirits. “We are very focused people and we set out what we wanted to do. We said it had to be sizeable, scalable, and profitable and we are very confident in achieving that.”
Born: Manchester, 1963
Lives: Bury, Lancashire
Career: 2006-present – chief executive, 2plan Group; 1999-2006 – national sales director, Positive Solutions; 1995-99 – group sales manager, Allied Dunbar; 1992-95 – branch manager, Save & Prosper; 1988-92 – sales consultant, General Portfolio
Likes: People with integrity
Dislikes: People with no integrity
Favourite book: Never read them unless on holiday
Favourite film: Miami Vice
Favourite album: Currently has John Mayer, Oasis and Bob Marley in the car
Career ambition: “To do what I am doing today”
Life ambition: “To be successful at what I am doing today and then as below”
If I wasn’t doing this I would be…“Sailing round the Caribbean”